Your Viiv Ain’t Nothin’ But Jive!

Central hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center was littered in brilliantly colored posters intended to pound product name recognition into even the most casual observer’s psyche.
Viiv.
Rhymes with Five. I don’t know how I knew that, other to admit, their marketing campaign must have been a success.

Intel, in conjunction with Microsoft, is touting a system called Viiv that will let consumers pipe movies and music through their house with wireless abandon. They had a nice little video that showed you how easily it all worked. To quote Brendan Traw of Intel, “Our vision with Intel Viiv™ technology is that digital media content can be enjoyed on these Intel-based PCs and consumer electronics devices in and around the home in an easy and affordable manner.”

There was no F.A.Q. in their announcement or on the websites I found, not yet at least, so I’ve read up on Viiv best I could, and here’s what I gleam:

Q: Viiv sounds great, right?
A: Sure.

Q: They say it's affordable. Is it?
A: Not really.

Let’s start with the medium of choice for most of our readers, the optical disc. At first glance, you might think a Viiv equipped network would allow you to load and watch the movies we already own on DVD. Such is not the case. Only HD-DVD movies can be directly loaded from an optical disk and played elsewhere in the house. Standard DVD’s will continue to require expensive video jukeboxes or media servers for whole house distribution. Then there is the question of how many movies you can load on a Viiv equipped computer. I mean, an HD-DVD movie could be 30 GB large. I know harddrive prices are dropping, but hey, even a terabyte (1,000 Gigabytes) would only hold about 30-40 movies.

Q: What about BluRay discs? That’s another hi-definition optical disc format, right? Is that supported by Viiv?
A: No, the “HD DVD Promotion Group” which issued the Viiv press release is hardly going to support, promote or even mention the competition.

Q: What about video on demand and downloading movies?
A: Of course! No prices are mentioned yet, but you can bet that if you demand a video, they’ll demand a payment. With Apple’s iPod leading the way with iTune downloads of “Desperate Housewives” episodes for $2.99, for the pleasure of viewing a bad show on a tiny screen, the path is already paved.

Q: Can I record TV shows and watch them later?
A: Yes, if you have a TV tuner in your computer. You’ll want a remote control too.

Q: What about hi-def movies or TV shows?
A: No word on that yet, but based on my own tests a few weeks ago (see Not So Instant Gratification), even standard definition will tax the patience of most consumers looking for a quick fix.

Q: Can I turn my PC into a Viiv PC?
A: Sure, as long as your PC has Intel Dual Core 64-bit architecture, the latest Intel chipset and runs Windows XP Media Center edition. In other words – no.

Q: Can I download music?
A: Yes. But not in any format that can instantly run on your iPod.

I ran into somebody at CES who works as a businesss development consultant to a major Japanese corporation that would very much like to take on Apple’s iTunes. You know what he told them? Don’t bother. Apple won. And they did. If Viiv thinks they're going to start something new, I’d give them the same advice that consultant gave his client. Don’t bother. Downloading music that can’t be put on an iPod is a dead end.

Q: So what about my existing DVDs?
A: You get to keep them. No charge.

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